When the opportunity arose to meet a Star Wars fanatic, who is crazy about space exploration and everything that comes with it, we just had to find out more. Meet Loretta Whitesides of Galactic Unite.
Let's jump straight in... you have degrees in biology, have travelled to the bottom of the ocean to film Aliens of the Deep and are part of the ZERO-G’s weightless crew… how did you end up doing all of this?
Ever since I was a little girl, my passion has always been for human space flight. I’ve dreamed of going into space and all my studies, adventures and jobs have been with that aim in mind. My biology degree for example - was just part of the journey, making sure I could speak the language of science and engineering that is the language of space.
Where did your interest/passion come from? Did anyone in particular inspire you?
Well my Grandfather had a passion for aviation; he had always wanted to be a pilot and dreamed of flying Spitfires. I guess you could say I picked up his bug for exploration.
I have to admit another factor for me was Star Wars. It had a really big impact on me as a kid - I loved Princess Leia and Yoda.
What would you class as your main job?
I see my main job as my role in maximising the positive impact that our space flights have on our employees, astronauts and the general public.
What are the most important attributes you think your job requires?
- A love of humanity
- The ability to talk directly and cut to the heart of the matter
- The ability to listen
What is the most exciting project you’ve worked on/are working on and why?
Being a part of doubling the number of people who will be able to share about their experience of going to space - that’s a really great thing to be able to do.
Also the weightless flight have been amazing - being able to float around feels completely alien, but completely familiar at the same time. You feel completely safe and secure, like coming home… you don’t want to leave. I am looking forward to getting to feel that for longer than 30 seconds on our spaceflight.
How did you get involved in Galactic Unite and what excites you about their work?
Galactic Unite is an initiative that was started by the astronauts themselves as a way of giving something back, which I was excited about, so got involved pretty early on. What I love about what we’re doing, is that Galactic Unite is something that the astronauts are volunteering to do out of their passion to make a difference; it inspires me that they want to do that.
How important do you think space education is?
So much of our lives - especially in future - touches on space. Whether we’re talking weather predictions, maps on the TV that come from satellite, or the GPS signal we use every day… it’s all a result of space and we need to understand that.
These are just a few examples, but if that’s what we use it already, it’s only going to increase. Hopefully solar power from space will be able to run our everyday living in the future! Satellite technology also helps us monitor the well being of our planet. I think it is important to understand our role, to understand the language of space and learn how to utilise our knowledge. I hope that people will want to go to space and want to shift how they behave and their impact on earth.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
It would have to be the Galactic Unite scholarships. Watching the girls meet Richard and study science and engineering is just brilliant. Then there’s the team of volunteers that work at our Galactic Unite events for kids; the Challenger Centres in the US gave over 12,000 kids the opportunity to speak to Galactic staff and astronauts about space. And also the ongoing Google Hangouts that we host with schools, as these give a first hand taste of what space flights will be like to the kids.
What do you love to do when you’re not working?
I love to be outdoors... anything like hiking and camping. I volunteer at the summer camp I went to as a girl - it focuses on helping the kids build confidence, communication and teamwork.
A trip to space as a honeymoon present is potentially the coolest I’ve come across – whose idea was it?
Definitely George’s idea, in fact it was a bit of a surprise! We were over in England at the Lake District with a group of our space friends in 2005.
George arranged a meeting at the Virgin Galactic offices and I was jealous that I couldn’t go too. George went off to the meeting nonetheless, but when he came back he surprised me, letting me know he went there to start talking to them about booking a space flight for the two of us!
Now that a trip to space is ticked off the list, if you could make sure you got to see one other thing happen in your lifetime, what would it be?
Well going into space myself is just the first piece of the plan. I’d like to open up space as an industry where lots of people will be able to go. I also want to make it possible for people to get to the other side of the planet in under an hour.
The Boeing 747 made a good start in making the world smaller. It allowed us to travel from continent to continent in a matter of hours instead of weeks or months. Having spaceships that can do that in even less time, will make the world smaller still. It can make us feel more connected, like crewmates of Spaceship Earth - that is my goal.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I wanted to mention a book that really impacted me in college, The Overview Effect by Frank White. It looks at the impact of human space flights on our societal evolution. The third edition is coming out this month and it’s definitely worth a read - in fact, it features interviews with both Richard and me which is rather exciting.
And lastly, I’m really excited about Land Rover's new competition where you submit a 30-second video explaining why you and three of your friends, should get the chance to fly to space with Virgin Galactic. The idea of opening up this experience to a winner from one of over 25 countries is really cool - if you are inspired by space I hope you'll check it out!
You can also have a look at what Galactic Unite is getting up to!